Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell stresses that most basketball games are won or lost in the last five minutes. With Mitchell's top two players - Rasheem Sims and Larry Tucker - unavailable for most of that stretch yesterday against South Carolina State, the result was predictable.
The Bulldogs closed the game with a 15-4 run, pushing past shorthanded Coppin State, 54-50, in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference matchup at Coppin Center.
Sims, the Eagles' All-MEAC point guard, missed his 12th straight game with a broken bone in his foot, and Tucker, averaging a team-best 16.2 points, fouled out with 3:59 left. Coppin made just one field goal after Tucker fouled out, and none in the final three minutes as the last remnants of a nine-point second-half lead disappeared.
The Bulldogs (8-11, 5-3) took the lead for good at 49-48 on a free throw by LaRon Mapp with 1:49 to play, and secured the win with an airtight zone defense, timely free throws and strong rebounding that limited Coppin's offensive chances in the closing minutes.
Coppin shot just 17 percent (5-for-29) in the second half and missed its last seven attempts.
"I guess that was a game that we didn't want to win, because we had every opportunity to win," said Mitchell, coaching at the Coppin Center for the first time since his wife died Jan. 10. "When it gets down to the last five minutes, defense, execution and confidence are so important. We lacked a lot of confidence down the stretch."
The Eagles (3-17, 1-8) have lost 10 in a row, the longest skid in Mitchell's 15-year tenure at Coppin.
Moses Malone Jr. led South Carolina State with 20 points, including the game's first 11 points as the Bulldogs stormed to an 11-0 lead in the first 6:27.
But Malone (5-for-22 overall) went cold after that and Coppin clawed back with aggressive work on the boards, out-rebounding the Bulldogs 27-13 in the first half.
Coppin took its first lead at 21-20 on a baseline jumper by Henry Colter with 1:41 left in the half, and opened the second half with seven straight points for a 34-25 lead with 16:58 left.
Malone, a Texas Tech transfer, was neutralized in the second half, going 0-for-8 against tight man-to-man defense led by Michael Poster. The Bulldogs, though, rallied behind Greg Gray, who scored 10 of his 12 points after intermission.
"My shot just wasn't falling, but my teammates really stepped up in the second half," Malone said.
Coppin held a 46-39 lead after a three-point play by Tucker with 7:30 left, but Tucker picked up his fourth foul 16 seconds later and was whistled for his fifth foul on a loose-ball scramble with 3:59 to play.
Despite the offensive struggles, Coppin closed to 52-50 on two free throws by Poster with 13 seconds left. But South Carolina State broke Coppin's ensuing pressure, and Dexter Hall sealed coach Cy Alexander's 250th win with an uncontested dunk.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE - Radford 2-5 0-0 4, Hall 2-6 3-5 7, Malone 5-22 6-7 20, Mapp 2-2 2-4 7, Gray 6-10 0-0 12, Heath 1-2 0-0 2, Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Ramsey 0-1 0-0 0, Sabb 0-2 0-0 0, Diabi 0-0 0-0 0, Fladger 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 19-53 11-16 54. COPPIN STATE - Poster 1-3 2-2 4, Tucker 4-17 7-7 15, Colter 3-8 4-4 10, Smith 2-8 0-0 6, Ferreira 0-1 0-0 0, Huff 1-4 3-4 5, Cagle 0-0 2-2 2, Boykin 3-17 0-1 8, Wright 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-58 18-20 50.
Halftime-Coppin 27, S.C. State 25. 3-point goals-S.C. State 5-19 (Radford 0-1, Hall 0-1, Malone 4-12, Mapp 1-1, Gray 0-1, Heath 0-1, Jones 0-1, Sabb 0-1), Coppin 4-19 (Poster 0-1, Smith 2-6, Boykin 2-12,). Fouled out-S.C. State (Tucker), Coppin (Tucker). Rebounds-S.C. State (Hall 7), Coppin (Poster 11). Assists-S.C. State (Mapp 3), Coppin (Huff 2). Total fouls-S.C. State 20, Coppin 21. A-536.